Underfoot - Adventures in the nearby and close-at-hand
Early in 2021, when there was little light in the day and none at the end of the tunnel, I had the urge to escape by reading about wilderness.
I read Abi Andrews’ weird and wonderful, The Word for Woman is Wilderness, about a woman’s edgy, (fictional), challenge to herself to survive in Alaska, and – closer to home – Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places. It was enjoyable to read Macfarlane’s account of his trips to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the British Isles, but what I found most encouraging was the way he discovers that the wild can be found in the humble and close to home, as well as in epic landscapes of bare mountains and storm-battered coasts.
He quotes a comment by his friend and fellow-adventurer Roger Deakin, who talked about ‘the undiscovered country of the nearby.’
That is the country I want to explore.
During the pandemic I have been endlessly grateful for being able to walk out of my house and straight into the Hertfordshire countryside. It is not an epic landscape, no area of outstanding natural beauty: it is 30 miles from London and from the air it would look like featureless fields hemmed in by motorways, with the odd patch of woodland.
But I know it has its own wonders and I want to notice them, acknowledge them, celebrate and share them. Writing about them and the thoughts they prompt, and taking the occasional ill-focused photo, helps me do that. A lifelong interest in wild flowers means that I often have my eyes on what’s underfoot, but I also like to look for birdlife and I’m fascinated by how the history of the area shows in its landscape and habitation.
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